Dealing with kids’ clutter is one of the biggest challenges that we hear about from clients. The toys, clothes, art and craft supplies, schoolwork – it can all be so overwhelming, and it’s easy for these categories to spiral out of control.

“But how do I get my kids to stay organized? How do I get them to just clean up??” is the constant refrain. We won’t lie: this isn’t an easy topic. There are so many factors at play, including emotional attachments (both kids’ and parents’), different upbringings, family dynamics, and overall household habits.

Fortunately, Ann Dooley is here to bridge the gap between parenting and organizing. As a certified positive parenting coach and master level KonMari consultant, she brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to help families foster connection and calm through tidying and organizing. Her work led her to create her own method, called The Dooley Method.

We recently spoke with Ann about tidying with families – you can watch the more in-depth discussion in our full Instagram Live interview. Read on to learn more about The Dooley Method and a few of Ann’s organizing insights!

Interview with Ann Dooley, Parenting Coach and KonMari Consultant

MOXIE SPACE: What is The Dooley Method, and how is it different from the conventional parenting and organizing advice you’ve found?

ANN DOOLEY: I follow many parenting and organizing accounts online, but there’s a gap between the two because a lot of parents’ struggles come from not knowing how to organize a home or how to encourage children to participate.

The Dooley Method builds that bridge between home organizing and positive parenting. I help families achieve win-win solutions to tidy up together, as a family. So, I not only focus on what supports a family’s day-to-day organizational needs, but we also align those skills with their parenting values to foster what I call the 5 C’s: Connection, Calm, Collaboration, Creativity, and Character-Building.

MOXIE SPACE: What are some of the biggest challenges around tidying/organizing that you see in your work with families?

ANN DOOLEY: The biggest challenge is decluttering the parents’ mindset. Many of those challenges are deep-rooted in the parents’ own childhoods, so when their children push back, the parents get triggered and end up using short-term solutions such as rewards or punishments as motivators.

When parents are willing to dig a little deeper to let go of unhelpful patterns, they can then shift their perspective and start to see every pile of their kids’ clutter as an opportunity for them to connect and support their children.

When parents empower themselves, they become better models for their kids.

MOXIE SPACE: We know it’s ideal to start building these skills early with young children, but let’s say your child is already a preteen or teenager. What is your advice for getting started with tidying and organizing with older kids?

ANN DOOLEY: Preteens and teenagers want to be respected as individuals and want their independence, but they also still need your support.

In the Dooley Method, I use an easy-to-remember C.A.R.E. approach to working with kids of all ages:

Connect, Acknowledge, Resolve, and Empower

Connect with your teen. Find out if clutter has caused any issues for them. Do they have the skills or knowledge to tackle it themselves? Or is something else getting in the way? Approach them with calm energy as they may already be feeling insecure about their abilities to clean up. Connect to meet them where they are. Teens need to know that your family works as a team, and they feel seen and heard before you make any requests. (That’s true for any age.)

Acknowledge their challenges. Maybe they are stressed about school, or too tired from sports practice, maybe they just want to relax. These are all feelings we can relate to and empathize with.

Once you’ve established trust and respect for one another through connection, we can move on to:

Resolve. Brainstorm together on how to get the task done. Don’t make it personal. Getting organized can be about safety (not tripping over things on the floor) and cleanliness (avoid attracting bugs or bad smells). Ask them for input on how they plan to do the task and be specific about when they expect to be done. Don’t rush to solve it for them, but when they have a plan, you can offer assistance if they need it. Teamwork is welcomed, especially when it’s easier to strike up a conversation with your teen when they are also doing a mundane task (more connection!).

Lastly, empower. Say to them, “You got this!” or “I’m here if you need help.” Then leave them to it. That shows you trust in their abilities and their words that they can get it done. After the task has been completed, praise their efforts. Don’t just say “good job” – this makes the task, which is their responsibility, a job done for the parent. That doesn’t support our goal to help our children be accountable for themselves. Instead, use positive character traits to develop their intrinsic motivation. For example “Your room looks great! You managed your time well” or “I hope you are as proud of yourself as I am of you! You are so responsible for taking care of your room.”

Of course, there may be times when they don’t finish the task. Then go back to using C.A.R.E. to find out what went wrong. This is the time for more learning and growing from their mistakes. Remind them that it takes time to build habits, and this is just another chance to try again.

MOXIE SPACE: In our work as professional organizers, sometimes we witness what seems like a power struggle between kids and parents about keeping their rooms neat. What are some ways to ease that power struggle? Should kids be forced to keep their rooms tidy?

ANN DOOLEY: The inner voices we have are so powerful, so when we think of the situation as a power struggle, it already makes us feel helpless and makes our children and their mess our enemy. This way of thinking changes our approach, our tone of voice, our body language.

But we should think about organizing the same way as learning to walk or ride a bike. Your kids will fall many times before they get the hang of it. And what do we say while they are learning? “You can do it!” We are their biggest cheerleader, we are there to comfort them when they fall. Learning to clean up their room is the same. With your constant support to help them get back up and try again, they will succeed.

We have to keep in mind there are so many things that can impact kids’ ability to learn to organize, such as: their developmental stages, motor skills, personality, energy level, if they are hungry or tired, if their brains are busy learning other things, if they got into a fight with friends, etc. Forcing it just stresses out the child and the parent, and activates our survival instincts, which won’t support our brain and body to learn.

That’s why the Dooley Method always uses the C.A.R.E. approach. When you focus on connecting with your children first, acknowledging their challenges, working together to find a solution, and empowering them, you’ll able to transform clutter and conflicts into calm and connection.

Ann Dooley is a certified positive parenting coach and master level KonMari consultant. Her work with parents and children resulted in creation of the Dooley Method, a comprehensive approach to home organizing that prioritizes and fosters the family connection. Follow her on Instagram at @simplejoywithann or learn more at www.simplejoywithann.com.

Moxie Space offers professional home organizing and unpacking services in Austin, TX and surrounding communities. Book a free phone consult today and let’s chat about how we can help you!